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Contaminants Found in Drinking Water Legal, but Could Still Pose Big Health Risks

Contaminants detected in water samples throughout the country pose health risks but are perfectly legal under the Safe Drinking Water Act, according to data released by an environmental advocacy group on Wednesday, July 26.

The Safe Drinking Water Act, enacted by congress in 1974, authorizing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set national standards for drinking water. However, new contaminants have not been added to the list of regulated drinking water pollutants in over 20 years. The act just hasn't been able to keep up with the country's creation and use of chemicals. 

The environmental advocacy group, Environmental Working Group (EWG), collected data from drinking water tests conducted from 2010 to 2015 at more than 48,000 water facilities throughout the U.S., looking for 500 unique contaminants. The group found 267 present in water supplies, many at levels above what scientific studies have found pose health risks but are still legal under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Of the 267 contaminants present, 93 were linked to an increased risk of cancer, 78 were associated with brain and nervous system damage, 63 were connected to developmental harm in children or fetuses, 38 were contaminants that could cause fertility issues, and 45 were endocrine disruptors.

EWG has made its data available in the form of a public database, where consumers can put in their zip codes and see what has been detected in their neighborhoods. The hope is that after consumers see the data, they can decide what they want to do with it, whether they buy a filter or contact their local representative.

While EWG does suggest the use of a filter if consumers are concerned about contaminants, they do not suggest the use of bottled water as a substitute for tap water. Unlike public water suppliers, manufacturers of bottled water are not required by law to disclose contaminant levels in their products. A 2012 report by EWG found that four out of five bottled water companies did not publish the results of their water quality testing. There is also the chance that bottled water may be contaminated with plastic additives that can leach from the bottle into the water.

"Legal doesn’t necessarily mean safe when it comes to drinking water," says Nneka Leiba, director of the Healthy Living Science Program for the EGW. "The main point for us is empowering people."

If you have concerns about your tapwater, give us a call at Optima. The more you know, the better prepared you can be. We are here for you. 

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